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Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series… O is for Occupations! Some of the many interesting things I’ve learned while researching my family history are my ancestors’ occupations. What skills, trades, and talents are on your family tree?

I’ve written about my family’s occupations in the past, so for today’s post I’m taking a different approach to the topic of working for a living. Has your own choice of a job or a particular talent been unknowingly influenced by your ancestors?

On the episode of Henry Louis Gates’ Finding Your Roots featuring Martha Stewart, Dr. Gates seemed surprised to discover that many of Martha’s ancestors’ jobs involved such decorative arts as basket-making, iron work, and gardening. These crafts have also played a role in Stewart’s career as a decorator. But when she embarked on that career, she knew nothing of her family’s history in similar fields.

I was not as surprised as Dr. Gates because I have experienced exactly the same thing in my own family history research when comparing some of my ancestors’ occupations to that of my brother and myself.

My brother has some similarities to our great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. Joseph’s primary occupation in life was a baker – my brother is not. However, we found a curious connection in another earlier occupation of Joseph’s. During his mandatory military service in the Bavarian Army, Joseph served in the Leib Regiment, or the Königlich Bayerisches Infanterie Leib Regiment. This roughly translates to the Royal Bavarian Infantry Life Guard Regiment. This elite regiment protected the royal family, and was headquartered in Munich at the royal palace. Our great-grandfather served in this unit from 1893-95 when he was only 20 to 22 years old.

When my brother was 21 years old, he joined the United States Marine Corps, another elite branch of the military known for their rigorous training and “spit and polish” image, much like the Leib Regiment. While in the Marines, my brother served as an Embassy security guard, which would have had similarities to the Leib Regiment not only in function – as a protection and security unit – but also in form in terms of strict protocol and image.

While these two military jobs were similar, my brother’s later career mirrored Joseph’s Leib Regiment service even more closely. Years later, my brother served in the state police. His time in service included working on the executive protection detail guarding the governor. Coincidentally, the uniform of the Leib Regiment and the state police have one remarkable similarity – they coat/shirt of each uniform are a bright light blue.

As for my own career, I’ve spent the last twenty years as a “civil servant”. I was surprised to discover that the career I stumbled upon by accident is closely interwoven with the careers of multiple ancestors. None were civil servants, but their jobs instead are directly related to the industry that I’ve worked with in my government job – the U.S. clothing, textile, and footwear industry. I’ve worked with this shrinking domestic industry, one that is nearly entirely dependent upon the military, for my entire career.

When I first started my job in 1992, I knew that my maternal grandparents had worked in the textile factories that once populated Philadelphia. But after that, as I spent more spare time researching my genealogy, I began to uncover more generations involved with this industry – a whole collection of weavers, seamstresses, cloth merchants, and shoemakers! Some of these occupations are on both my father’s and mother’s side of the family tree including generations of both Bavarian and Polish shoemakers. My maternal grandfather’s family, all weavers, came from Żyrardów, Poland – a town founded to produce textiles. It soon became the largest textile-producing town in the entire Russian Empire by the end of the 19th Century. I may not weave fabric or make clothes or shoes myself, but thanks to my desk job I know more about these industries than I ever thought possible.

I wondered about other occupational connections in the family. My father worked as an accountant, and while I haven’t found any bean counters in his family’s history, I realized that in his younger days he was quite talented at construction-type jobs around the house. Did that talent stem from his Bavarian carpenter and mason ancestors? My mother also worked as a bookkeeper and a bank teller, but her dream job, and her talent, was designing and making clothes. Did that passion come from her weaving ancestors?

Perhaps we have a genetic memory within us that calls us to certain occupations or pastimes. I’d like to think so, but then again maybe it’s just a matter of some remarkable coincidences. I’d like to know who the historian in the family was… Because I think I inherited that gene!

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

Continuing with the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… N is for Napoleon! Napoleon may have been a dictator, but he did a few other things as well – one thing in particular that may even have an impact on your family history research today. In 1804 he instituted the Civil Code, which is now known as the Napoleonic Code. It was adopted throughout many of the lands he conquered, and it remained in effect after his death. The Civil Code granted many things we take for granted today such as freedom of religion and equality. Of course, it stated other things that we wouldn’t necessarily be happy with today like patriarchal power – in other words, husbands rule the household. But genealogically speaking, we have Napoleon and his code to thank for civil registration of vital events such as births, marriages, and deaths. The Roman Catholic church had been keeping records prior to this – in some places for centuries – but the Civil Code made the record-keeping a state function.

The Code spelled out exactly what must be recorded in the vital records, and the information required was more than what was customarily kept in church record books. For example, a religious baptismal record would likely indicate the child’s name, date of birth, date of baptism, parents’ names, godparents’ names, and the location. Napoleonic birth records required the exact time of birth as well as the full names, ages, residences, and professions of the parents and witnesses. Napoleonic marriage records are rather detailed and include the ages, residences, and professions of the bride and groom, their parents, and the witnesses. I don’t think the Napoleonic death records are as detailed as those for birth and marriage because it lacks the cause of death and the birthplace of the deceased. But, the Civil Code required that these events be registered within the community whereas prior to this it was merely a religious function.

The Civil Code was adopted in countries occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars and became the basis of law in Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Romania, and parts of Germany. I gave an example of a Napoleonic birth record in the Baptism of Jozef Piontkowski. Learn more about translating Polish vital records in the Napoleonic format at this link.

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

This is a great photograph of my mother in 1950. She was only 14 years old yet to me she looks glamorous and sophisticated. But what’s funny about this photo is that my mother always said she never really learned how to ride a bike. I saw her ride one once, but she was a bit unsteady and gave up quickly. Even if it’s not her bicycle, you have to admit it makes a nice fashion accessory!

Posted for Sepia Saturday #138

 

 

M is for Maps

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… M is for Maps! What do maps have to do with family history? Maps can mean a lot to research – after all, how can you find the history of your family if you don’t know where to look? Maps can help us look in the right direction in many different ways. Here are some of my favorite kinds of maps or map sites that I use in my research:

Google Maps – Besides helping me find my way between a myriad of places, I use Google Maps to look up all sorts of locations in my family history research. I can use it to see a town in Europe – or to see if that town name actually exists. Or, I can look up a census address to see if the house is still there, and if a “Street View” exists I can even see how the location looks today. For cluster research, I can create a custom map and “pin” all of the locations of a particular family or group of neighbors.

Historic Maps – I love historic map sites! What genealogist doesn’t? One of my favorites for my hometown research is the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network interactive map viewer. I can see past maps of the city layered on top of today’s map (using Google Maps). My favorite is the 1942 Land Use map that includes businesses, factories, churches, and more. With this old map, I can literally walk around the neighborhood of my ancestors and “see” what they saw as they walked the streets of Philadelphia. (See my previous post, Fun with Maps in Philadelphia, for more on the site.) Old maps of Europe were essential to my research to determine country borders – was it Poland or Russia? Bavaria or Austria?

Factories in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, 1942

Pinpointing a town with maps – Sites like the JewishGen Gazetteer (formerly called the ShtetlSeeker) can not only show you a town on the map, but show you towns within a ten-mile radius. You can also search for a town name phonetically, which is  useful for misspelled town names. The Gazetteer contains the names of one million localities in 54 countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Learn more about it in my previous post, ShtetlSeeker: It’s Not Just for Shtetls Anymore.

Surname Maps are a very different sort of map that also have a place in family history. Several sites allow you to create a map of surname distribution in a particular country. The maps are usually based on current data, such as census records or phone books. Such maps can lead you to potential relatives back in the old country or even validate your place of origin. I try to use a surname map in each of my Surname Saturday posts to illustrate the name’s distribution. Frankly, they are really just plain fun. I recently entered a rather unusual surname into a surname map-maker for Poland and found a total of one person with that name – in exactly the same town my ancestor came from. Hello, cousin?

How have maps helped your family history research?

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

When it comes to business and commerce, my great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States in the early years of the 20th century spent their lives working for others whether it was in textile mills, bakeries, or other factories. Some of their American-born children, however, had that good old-fashioned entrepreneurial spirit. One of my maternal grandmother’s brothers owned a butcher shop for many years on E. Norris Street in Philadelphia. I don’t have any photos of the shop, or of my grand-uncle Casimir Zawodny for that matter. But I do have a great photo of two of my paternal grandmother’s brothers who used their ingenuity to become businessmen at a young age. May I introduce you to Max Bergmeister, proprietor of the Lawrence Ice Company, 920 N. Lawrence Street in Philadelphia, PA:

Julius and Max Bergmeister, the Lawrence Ice Company, Philadelphia, PA, circa 1925

Max (born 1905) is the young man leaning on the rear of the truck. His younger brother Julius (born 1908) stands at the front. I’m far from a Photo Detective and did not do much research into the time period of the photo, but based on the style of the truck and the apparent youth of the brothers I would date it to 1925-1928. The scan of the photo is not of the highest quality, but there are a number of great details in the photo if you zoom in. For example, the building directly behind the front of the truck appears to be a telegraph or telephone station (note the sign with the bell in the upper left). The store is a stationery story that sells notions – this is just visible through the windshield of the truck. The confectionary store (behind rear of truck) serves Reid’s ice cream (“It’s the Best”). Just behind Max’s head you can see signs for the Ringling Brothers Circus that was coming to town on May 16. The most interesting thing I found while zooming in on the photo is the profile of a man or woman in the window on the second story to the left of the ice cream sign.

Max started out in the ice business, but by the 1930’s he owned what was called a “soda fountain” in those days. My dad was the envy of the neighborhood because his uncle had a candy and ice cream store! He owned the business for many years. His brother Julius worked as a driver, but at some point he became a Philadelphia fireman and had a long career with Engine Co. 51 in the same neighborhood. Another driver used to deliver ice cream to Max’s store – a young man named James Pointkouski (see a 1937 photo of James and his ice cream delivery truck here). One day James noticed the girl behind the counter. Excited, he asked Max, “Who is that?” Max responded with an indifferent shrug, “Oh, that’s just my sister.” I guess I should be grateful to Max for being a businessman, because at that moment his friend and deliveryman James met his future wife, Margaret. It would take many more years before they would become known as my grandparents.

[Written for the 120th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Business and Commerce]

After writing about libraries this week I began to reminisce about the “olden days” of genealogical research. It wasn’t entirely a fond reminiscing either. There used to be a lot of waiting involved in research – mail a letter, wait for a response. Or send away for some records, wait for a response. Or even worse – wait for a day to make a research trip to the archives, and slowly scroll through microfilm to find your answer.

The internet changed all of that waiting for the most part, and it took away whatever patience I had left. Everything is instant now. If a question arises about a movie, historical event, a sports statistic, or just about anything, gone are the long debates over the correct answer.  Google it, declare the winner, and move on. Handwritten letters? Even email is too much anymore – we settle for text messages.

With genealogy, so many records are online and instantly accessible that when something is not online that waiting that used to seem normal now just seems long. Very long. I’ve grumbled about the waiting game before and I bring it up again because I’d have a lot of good fodder for new blog posts if only some of the genealogical “things” I’m waiting for would only arrive. I can’t remember waiting for this much information since the early days of my research. At the moment, I’m waiting for:

  • A naturalization file from USCIS  for my great-grandmother that I never thought to look for until recently. In it may be the solution to my biggest mystery – her birthplace. They did the index search quickly. But the record request? Not so much.
  • A visa file from USCIS for my great-grandmother’s sister-in-law that may provide clues as to the family left behind in Poland. Again, the index search was quick. What I want is there somewhere.
  • A death certificate from the State of New Jersey for someone who died in 1944.  The name of that someone is the same as one of my 2nd great-grandparents. The name is a bit common, but there were enough coincidental facts about this particular person that made me wonder if my 2nd great-grandmother did indeed immigrate to the U.S.  If I ever get that death certificate, I may actually know if it’s her or not.
  • My AncestryDNA results, the first genetic genealogy test I ever had. Lord only knows what that will reveal.

I wanted to send for some marriage license records from the City of Philadelphia and write to a potential cousin, but I don’t want to wait for even more mail to arrive. Genealogy-wise, each of these things will be rather exciting (except maybe that death certificate if it’s not the person I think it is). Each will probably give me something to write about here besides the Family History through the Alphabet challenge. But for now, I wait. And wait. It reminds me of the old days…but I’m too used to the new days to call them “good”!

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyz/3962573662/ Date; 2009-09-26, Author: Stuart Caie, http://www.flickr.com/photos/77047514@N00 Stuart Caie from Edinburgh, Scotland

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge…L is for Libraries! I have long been a lover of libraries. When I was a little girl, I loved to visit the library for a stack of new books to read (I still love it as a big girl, too). Since I went to high school and college in the stone age before Wikipedia, Google, and computers, I relied on the library to research my term papers (and I relied on typewriters to write them, but that’s another story…). I was downright giddy on a visit to The British Library, and the Library of Congress was also impressive. The worst thing about the big, beautiful libraries in other countries is that I can’t read all the books because I’m not fluent in foreign languages, but I can still admire the beauty of the collections. But aside from my love of books in general, where would my family history research be if it weren’t for libraries? Long ago before a multitude of information was available on the internet, the library was the sole source for any serious research.

My first visit to the Family History Library in April, 2010.

My family history research began shortly after I graduated college. My friend Marie and I were attending grad school and we started talking about family history. Specifically, we talked about our desire to know more about our respective family histories. We asked each other, “How do you get started with genealogy, anyway?” By that point in our academic lives we knew there was one place to find the answer – the library! We visited the college library together and left with a stack of genealogy how-to books (Angus Baxter’s In Search of Your European Roots is still in print!). Thus began my 20+ year journey among records, archives, microfilm, and – eventually – computers.

Libraries have always been my favorite source of books to read, but they can also be a great resource for books and other media related to genealogical research. Even though many records are now available online, the Free Library of Philadelphia remains the only place where I can see the city’s newspapers after 1920 and city directories from certain years.

Then, of course, there is the Ultimate Library for genealogical research, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is truly a mecca for genealogists no matter your family’s country of origin. If you’re a genealogist and you haven’t been there yet, put it on your “bucket list” – you won’t be disappointed!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet challenge]

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…K is for Księgi Parafialne (Polish for “Church Books”) via the website http://www.ksiegi-parafialne.pl/. If your family history is Polish, this site is a must and yet it is not mentioned very often among guides to Polish research or “best of” lists. What is it? A site that lists, by province, every town that has church books indexed. The indexes (indices) are all on other sites – this is merely an index of indexes and links are included to get you there. As such, this site is only helpful once you’ve discovered the name of the town from which your ancestors came.

First, click on “Województwa” to find the province. Since the entire site is in Polish, you must look for the Polish name of the province (Pomorskie for Pomerania, etc). Each province has a separate page with a list of towns. Find the town name in the first column, parafia / USC. If available at one of the online sites, it will be listed. The dates in the columns show what records have been indexed for Chrzty/Urodziny (Baptisms/Births), Małżeństwa (Marriages), and Zgony (Deaths). Under Strona www is a link to the web site with the indexed records. There are over a dozen sites that have images (or at least indexes) of the records available. Included among them are Geneteka, which I’ve praised here before, and the Polish church books included on FamilySearch.org. What’s not listed? Anything on microfilm available via FamilySearch – this site lists only records/indexes available online. As with any record site, some provinces have many more towns with online records available than others. But towns are added weekly and the site is a great way to keep track of  what’s available for your ancestors’ towns. There are hundreds listed – is your ancestors town among them?

On the main page next to “Województwa” you will also see “II Rzeczpospolita” or “Second Republic”. This list includes areas once associated with Poland during the interwar period. There is also a heading “Dokumenty metrykalne” which offers documents that describe the format of the records. However, as the documents are in Polish, it will not nearly be as helpful as various translation guides in English.

For those of you with Polish ancestry, how cool is it to have a site that lists all available online records? I think it’s great…I just wish Germany had a similar site! Happy searching…

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

And they all have a name that begins with J… Top Row: Jane, Jozef, Julius, Donna Joan. 2nd Row: James, James, Jean, Josef. 3rd Row: Jane, Nicholas James. Bottom Row: Joseph, Anita Jane, Joan, James.

The Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge has been rather, er, challenging so far… I was particularly stumped with the letter “J” and I wondered if I should talk about the Joy of genealogy or the Journeys I’ve taken during my research. But the fact is that “J” is actually quite prominent in my family – that is, as the starting letter of names!  The J-names are hanging on every branch of my family tree. Sure, there are some Maria’s and Anna’s (and tons of Maria Anna’s and Anna Maria’s in Bavaria) as well as several Elizabeth’s. For the men I have a few named Louis, Karl, and Ignatz or Ignacy. But one letter is prominent by far – the letter J.  Therefore, J is for J Names!

Starting with my father’s paternal side, there is my grandfather James. James named my father James, who in turned named his son James, who in turn used James as a middle name for one of his sons. My grandfather James named his daughter Jean after his sister Jean. His brother, Joseph, named one daughter Jean and another Josephine, and his son is named John Joseph. The father of James, Jean, and Joseph? John (Jan in Polish).

Moving to the next branch of the family tree, grandfather James married Margaret. She can be forgiven for her lack of a J-name by the sheer number of J’s in her ancestry. Her brother Joseph was named after their father, Joseph, while brother Julius was named after Uncle Julius. Joseph’s father, Joseph, had a father named Joseph. In fact, if it wasn’t for the elder Joseph’s father, Jakob (son of Joseph!), there would be an unbroken line of seven generations of men named Joseph Bergmeister starting in 1763 until today with my 20-something cousin in Texas. Oh, and the father of the Joseph born in 1763? John (Johann in German).

On my mother’s side, neither grandparent has a J-name, but my mom’s middle name is Jane. My middle name, Joan, is the same as my mom’s sister Joan. Their father’s grandfather was named Joseph (Józef), the son of John (Jan). Their father’s other grandfather? John (Jan in Polish).

Moving to the final branch, my mother’s mother’s family, my great-grandfather was named – how did you guess? Joseph! He named a daughter Jane and one of his sons had a Joseph and a Joyce. My great-grandmother has sisters named Jane and Josephine. The sisters’ dad’s dad was Józef and their mom’s dad was Jan.

Really, I’m not making this up…it’s all in on the family tree!

Sure, there are some other names on the family tree, but none come close to the amount of J-names. Oddly enough, I have yet to uncover a single surname that starts with the letter J. Maybe I will find one in my research one day. If I do, I can place a sure bet that if I find a man with a “J” surname, his first name will almost certainly be Joseph or John and if it’s a woman she’ll likely be Jane, Jean, Joan, or Josephine!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…I is for Imieniny! Imieniny is the Polish word for name days. Many countries celebrate name days or feast days which were originally based on saints’ feast days in the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar. As a primarily Roman Catholic country, Poland enthusiastically celebrates imieniny. However, my family history research discovered something rather unique about Poland’s imieniny. Many Polish Catholics used the liturgical calendar not to celebrate a feast day after a child was named – but to actually name the child.

In several of my Polish families, every child’s name is based on a saint’s feast on or near the date of birth. At first I thought my great-grandfather, Ludwik (Louis) Pater, was named after his maternal grandfather, Ludwik Pluta. But I soon noticed a naming pattern among the Pater children – they were not being named after relatives, but after the saints on whose feast they were born. My great-grandfather was born on 24 August 1893, and his grandfather was born on 21 August 1843. The feast of St. Ludwik is 25 August!

This wasn’t just a coincidence – every single child of my great-great grandparents Józef and Antonina Pater is named after a saint’s feast near their birthday – and Józef and Antonina and their siblings are as well! Based on my research, the Pater children did not pass on this tradition when it came time to name their own children.

Not every Polish ancestor followed this tradition, but many did. I last wrote about this tradition in a post called Polish Names and Feast Days in 2008 –  the third post written for this blog. As my research continues, I’m finding more and more ancestors named after the saint’s feast near their birth.

I always thought the imieniny naming tradition was fun and it would certainly take the stress off of parents who debate over names for their child – just let the church’s calendar decide for you. Then again, there is a certain risk involved, for not every name is equally liked! Your first name is very important for your sense of identity, so I can’t help but wonder how name choices affect people. Just by the random chance of the day you were born could have christened you Adam (24 December) or Zenon (22 December), Aniela (31 May) or Zuzanna (24 May).

Of course, if you weren’t named after the saint whose feast happened to fall on your day of birth, you can always celebrate your imieniny anyway by finding the corresponding saint on the calendar. Any reason for a party (and cake) is a good reason, so take a look at the list of names and celebrate your name day!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…H is for History. Researching your family history isn’t just about the history of your family, but it’s about how your family fit into the history of the world. Genealogy puts a face on history – the faces of your ancestors. When we learn about a particular time period, we wonder how our ancestors were affected by the events. And just maybe we can learn something from our family’s past.  After all, what’s past is prologue, right?

While researching my family, I’ve learned a lot of interesting historical facts that I never knew before. Some of these events are not well known and would have held little interest to me, but knowing my own ancestors were a part of it makes it more significant and meaningful. I’ve learned about Haller’s Armythe Polish Army in France during World War I led by General Haller. Over 25,000 Polish immigrants to the United States and Canada volunteered to serve and fight for their homeland’s independence including my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, who had been in the U.S. for ten years.

I also learned about Häuserchronik - house histories published in Germany that present  a centuries-old city directory loaded with extra-special information such as marriages and occupations. It was great to learn the name of the hometown of my Bavarian immigrants, but knowing that several generations of my family lived in the same house for over a hundred years makes the town’s history more personal.

So many other Historical events took on a more personal connection through my research, whether it was the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Holocaust, an obscure battle in the War of Austrian Succession, or the saint who once played in my own backyard. History is all around us! Take the time to learn all about the time periods, places, and events during which your family lived.

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…G is for Google? What does Google have to do with family history?  The Google site is much more than just a search engine – it has become a very useful tool for genealogical research.  Here are some of the ways I use Google for genealogy:

  • Search for names and towns on Google 
  • Read all of my genealogy (and other) blogs on Reader
  • Share information with my family on Docs.  It is also a useful place to store info among  my various computers (work, home, laptop).
  • Find references to ancestors or towns in old books and newspapers, especially foreign texts, on Books. This is how I found out about a fire in my ancestors’ town, my fugitive immigrant, and I located many sources for my Józef Pater story.
  • Translate words, phrases, or entire texts from Latin, Polish, German, and many other languages with Translate. While the translations are not 100% accurate, you do get the general idea of the text.  You can also translate directly from Google Books if the full text of the book is available.
  • Set up Alerts for names or places so you don’t miss any references
  • Virtually walk in my ancestors’ footsteps with Maps and Earth
  • Remember family dates or set up an editorial calendar for a blog with Calendar

I even use Google’s web browser, Chrome, their photo editing tool, Picasa, and their email platform, Gmail! The only Google apps I don’t really use are the blogging platform, Blogger, and the social networking site, Google+, because I like WordPress and Facebook better. However, many other genealogists find both of these tools to be useful to their family research as well.

This “Google Doodle” was used for Louis Daguerre’s 224th birthday. As the inventor of the Daguerreotype photograph, I thought it was appropriate to illustrate Google and Family History!

How do you use Google for your family history research?

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

Clockwise from top left: paternal grandfather James Pointkouski, great-grand Joseph Bergmeister, great-grand Louis Pater, my dad, great-grand Joseph Zawodny, maternal grandfather Henry Pater

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…F is for Fathers! I had a lot of different ideas for the letter “F”. Would I write about Family in general, or cheat and use Family Photographs? Or how about the Faith of my ancestors? Or the only “F” surname I have in my tree, Fischer? Or maybe the few Farmers among my ancestors? No, there was only one choice in the end. I’m one of the few American bloggers participating in the challenge, and I’ve been posting my efforts each Sunday.  This particular Sunday we celebrate Father’s Day in the United States, and what would family history be without fathers (and mothers)?

Signature of my 2nd great-grandfather on an 1866 baptismal record from Warsaw: Stanisław Piątkowski, ojciec (father)

As I’ve researched my family history, I’ve encountered many kinds of fathers. There were the prolific, such as my 3rd great-grandfather, Jakob Bergmeister, who fathered fifteen children in nineteen years. Back then, the infant mortality rate was much higher, so many of those children died. In more recent times, my one great-grandfather raised six children and my 2nd great-grandfather brought his six to the United States from Poland. I can’t think of any fathers who had only one child, but several had only two. There were young fathers, like my great-grandfather Louis Pater, who was only 18 years old when my grandfather was born. There are also some older fathers, such as my brother and our grand-uncle – both were both less than 3 months shy of 50 years old when their sons were born. Unfortunately in that same grand-uncle’s case, Joseph Perk, he is the only father on my family tree to be deceased when his child was born (one week later). Some fathers in the family lived long lives and got to know their grandchildren, while others died young and barely knew their own children. Some worked hard to provide for their families while others stumbled. But all of the fathers did their best – it’s what fathers do!  Here’s to all of the fathers on our family trees!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

Ellis Island today

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series…E is for Ellis Island!  Few places in America have the legendary status of Ellis Island.  Any family history that includes early 20th century immigrants holds Ellis Island in high regard as the entryway to this country. There were other ports in the United States, but Ellis Island brought the largest number of immigrants to the U.S. and is the most well-known and perhaps the most “romanticized” of the ports that drew, in the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to this country.

Ellis Island was only one stop on a very long journey, but because it was the entry point to the United States, it seems to summarize the entire immigrant experience. At some point, my ancestors made a decision to leave their homeland. In some cases, they left their parents and siblings behind and never saw them again. Maybe they left because of economic concerns, or maybe they just had adventurous spirits. All of them, I’m sure, hoped for a better life once they arrived here. As a result of that one decision, they traveled long distances from Germany and Poland to ports throughout Europe: Hamburg and Bremen in Germany, Antwerp in Belgium, and even Southampton in Great Britain. Then the transatlantic journey began – approximately two weeks at sea. Third class steerage was no vacation cruise; quarters were cramped and uncomfortable. Some of my ancestors made the journey alone, including some females, and other female ancestors bravely traveled with their young toddlers. And then…America! Their first glimpse of the new country, their hope for a new life, was Ellis Island.  I have no idea what they thought at that moment, but I do know that without that decision, without that journey, without that arrival into a melting pot of a new country with a new language and a new way of life, I would not have been born.  Or if my ancestors from different countries did happen to meet elsewhere in the same combination, I would not be American.  Therefore, I’m very grateful for their decisions and their journey that brought them to Ellis Island.

Over 12 million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. Fortunately for their descendants who are interested in genealogy, passenger lists were required for each ship. The lists provide a wealth of information, but some years have much more than others. Besides finding out ages, occupations, and occasionally birthplaces, we also sometimes learn the physical descriptions of our ancestors. Without photographs, learning the person’s height, hair and eye color, and complexion allows us to mentally picture these travelers. The lists make the stories “real” – the first time I found one of my ancestors on a passenger list (on microfilm in pre-digital days), I let out a whoop of joy and did a genealogical happy dance.  Those names I learned were really real! That’s how my family research began – finding my family’s American beginnings in Ellis Island’s records.

I finally took my own journey to Ellis Island in the summer of 2010 with five genealogist friends. It was a wonderful experience.  I was surprised the “Great Hall” was not quite as large as it looks in photographs. What made our trip meaningful was that all of us had ancestors who arrived through that port and the realization that their fateful decision to come here shaped our own lives.

My Ellis Island Immigrants

Piontkowski (Piątkowski) Family

  • Husband Jan (34) on 04 March 1906 on SS Pennsylvania from Hamburg
  • Wife Rozalia (41) and children Jozef (3) and Janina (1) on 09 November 1906 on SS Armenia from Hamburg

Bergmeister Family

  • Husband Josef, my first direct ancestor immigrant to the United States, actually arrived via the port of Philadelphia in 1900.
  • Wife Marie (26) and daughter Marie (3) on 27 June 1901 on SS Kensington from Antwerp
  • Josef’s sister, Hilaury (23), arrived 25 July 1893 on SS Friesland from Antwerp. Their brother, Ignaz, arrived at the port of Philadelphia in 1904. Half-brother Julius Goetz (16) arrived 22 September 1902 on SS Zeeland from Antwerp. Half-brother Herman Goetz (26) arrived 03 May 1911 on SS Finland from Antwerp.

Pater Family

  • Husband Józef (40) on 18 February 1905 on SS Graf Waldersee from Hamburg
  • Wife Antonina (42) and daughters Regina (18) and Victoria (2) on 30 September 1906 on SS Blücher from Hamburg
  • Sons Wacław (17), Ludwik (14), and Stefan (12) and daughter/son-in-law Francziska and Pawel Miedzinski (Nieginski) (20 and 27) on 15 August 1907 on SS Grosser Kurfurst from Bremen.
  • Antonina’s mother, Franziska Pluta (60) on 21 June 1909 on SS Vaderland from Antwerp

Müller / Miller Family

  • My as-yet single great-grandmother, Elżbieta (18), on 16 April 1909 on SS President Grant from Hamburg
  • Her brother, sister-in-law (2 arrival records), niece, and nephew (born in U.S., left, returned to U.S. via Ellis Island) and various Miller “cousins” also arrived through Ellis Island.

Zawodny Family

  • Husband Józef (23) on 05 April 1902 on SS Graf Waldersee from Hamburg
  • Wife Wacława arrived via the port of Philadelphia later in 1902.
  • Three of Wacława’s sisters arrived at Ellis Island on 15 October 1920 on SS Adriatic from Southampton

I have previously written about several of these immigrants as well as using passenger lists for research. Read the other posts about passenger lists and the immigration experience here.

 

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series…D is for Double Cousins! The term “double cousin” applies when cousins share ancestry through more than one line. For example, if siblings from one family marry siblings in another family, the couples’ children are first cousins through both their father’s side and their mother’s side; hence: double cousins! Double first cousins share both sets of grandparents whereas “regular” first cousins share one set.

Elizabeth and Stanley Zawodny

So far I’ve only found one instance of double cousins in my own family. My grandmother, Mae Zawodny Pater, had a brother and a sister that married siblings in the Tiernan family. Helen Zawodny (1905-1977) was the daughter of Joseph and Laura Zawodny.  Helen married John Tiernan (1901-1960), the son of Thomas and Sarah Tiernan, in 1923.

In 1930, Helen’s younger brother, Stanley (1909-1980), was living with Helen and John. In 1934, Stanley married John’s younger sister, Elizabeth (1911-1999). Therefore, the children of Helen & John and Stanley & Elizabeth are double cousins. Stanley and Elizabeth had three children (after the surname changed from Zawodny to Zowney) – all are still living today so I won’t name them for privacy reasons. Helen and John only had one child, Thomas, but unfortunately he died as a young child. Therefore the double cousin relationship in my family only existed briefly.

How many double cousins are in your family tree?

 [Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge] 

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series…C is for Census! Federal Census Records are one of the first tools that U.S. researchers turn to when beginning their family history research. It was my first stop when I began my research 23 years ago – back then, the most recent available census at the time was the 1910! I think the census records are even more valuable today.

While census records don’t give you exact dates or vital statistics about your family members, they do provide vital CLUES to assist in further research. The census teaches us:

  • family relationships – including occasional maiden names if in-laws are living with the family
  • approximate ages
  • addresses
  • occupations
  • for immigrants, the approximate immigration year and if naturalized or not

How accurate is the information? Well, in my family that all depends on several factors, including who provided the info, how well the informant understood English, and how close to the “event” they were at the time (for example, the immigration year is more likely to be correct five years later than 25 years later).

I’ve found a lot of family members in quite a few federal censuses, so I’ve created some rules – of course, they may only apply to my family, who tend to shy away from being “found” by future generations. But perhaps I’m not alone, so I present Donna’s Census Rules:

1. Women get younger every decade. Or so it seems…

2. Rule #1 is applied more vigorously in instances where the wife is older than the husband. Although the wife was older in one set of my grandparents, two sets of greats, and my 2nd great-grandparents, she is always either the same age as the husband or younger so as to prevent the raised eyebrows of the neighbors.

3. Just because adult children are listed with their parents doesn’t actually mean they live there, it just means the parents misunderstood the question. Keep looking, because you’ll probably find them listed elsewhere on their own. My family has inflated the official population number for decades with this rule!

4. The spelling of immigrant surnames are irrelevant for the first 25-30 or so years after immigration, then enumerators finally get it right. Overall, the 1940 census has been the most accurate with both names and ages for all of my ancestors.

5. Don’t be surprised to find extra, unknown siblings listed. Or existing, known siblings not listed. I may never know why. Or why not.

So there you have it….researching census records can be a wild, fun ride. You never know what you’ll find, but one thing’s for sure – there’s always a “happy dance” involved when you find your ancestor! Maybe someday I’ll get to explore census records for other countries, too!

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… B is for Bavaria (or Bayern in German). I’ve occasionally been asked why I identify myself as having Polish and Bavarian ancestry instead of Polish and German. Germany was unified as a nation in 1871, a mere 2 years before my great-grandfather was born and 4 years before my great-grandmother was born. They were born in the Kingdom of Bavaria, a state within the German Empire. So yes, my great-grandparents were born in Germany. But the roots of their ancestry are Bavarian! For hundreds of years their ancestors lived in Bavaria – not a small part of a German nation, but an indpendent nation of its own.

I like to describe how my ancestors’ Bavaria relates to Germany by comparing it to how the state of Texas relates to the rest of the United States. Like the southern state, Bavaria covers a large area, they “talk funny” and use different colloquial expressions, they want to secede from the union, they have many strange local traditions, and they are fiercely proud of their heritage. Oh, and they’re very friendly, too!

Bavaria as a political region has roots back to the late 5th Century when it was recognized as a Duchy. In the 17th and 18th centuries the area was known as the Electorate of Bavaria. Then, in 1806, Napoleon abolished the Holy Roman Empire and Bavaria became the Kingdom of Bavaria. Even when Bavaria became a part of the newly formed German Empire in 1871, it still retained its name of “Kingdom” and had some special rights within the Empire such as its own Army, postal service, and railways. Throughout Bavaria’s history, it’s borders changed somewhat. It even once included Tirol, now in Austria, and Südtirol, now in northern Italy.

My ancestors mostly lived in the part of Bavaria known as “Upper Bavaria” or Oberbayern. Upper Bavaria is the southern part of Bavaria, and is called “Upper” because it is higher above sea level than the rest of Bavaria. The area includes the capital city of Munich (München) and some of the sights and events that Bavaria is most known for such as King Ludwig’s fairy tale castles and the Oktoberfest celebration.

My ahnen, or ancestors, include the following towns and surnames:

  • Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm: Echerer/Eggerer, Nigg/Nick, Höck/Heckh, Kaillinger, Paur, Singer, Zuell
  • Puch: Bergmeister, Zinsmeister
  • Agelsberg: Fischer, Guggenberger
  • Dörfl: Gürtner
  • Langenbruck: Fischer
  • Niederscheyern: Daniel, Schober
  • Aichach: Dallmaier, Eulinger
  • Reichertshofen: Gürtner, Sommer
  • Freising: Stainer
  • Friedberg: Cramer
  • Waal: Schwarzmaier

Since Bavaria is Germany’s largest state comprising 20% of its total area and is the second most populous state, I wonder why there are not more Bavarian geneabloggers. Surely there are more people tracing their Bavarian ancestry! For more information on researching your Bavarian ancestors, see Bavaria GenWeb or the Genealogy Forum Bavaria.

Even though my ancestry is only 1/4 Bavarian, I have fully embraced my Bavarian roots. I love Bavaria and the Bavarian people! Give me lederhosen, weisswurst and pretzels (only if the pretzels are made by my Bergmeister cousins’ bakery), “Mad” Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein castle, and pitcher-size servings of beer any day because I’m Bavarian!

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

Umlauts and ogoneks and carons… ог мий (oh my)! *

I decided to attempt the “Family History through the Alphabet” Challenge prompted by Gould Genealogy. I normally don’t participate in weekly themes, but this one allows for creativity since each individual chooses a topic (one letter per week) that pertains to their own family history. And it will definitely be challenging based on the amount of time it took me to come up with a word for the letter “A”.  A is for…Alphabets! In learning the basics of a few other languages as part of my family history research, I’ve had to learn a few new alphabets that go beyond the ABCs I’ve known since childhood.

The first foreign records I researched were in German.  Fortunately, the German alphabet is essentially the same as the English alphabet but there are four extra letters: ä, ö, ü, and ß. These are sometimes substituted with ae, oe, ue, and ss, so these new letters were not so difficult to learn. With regard to alphabetical order, these letters are usually mixed in with their base letter (a, o, u, and s) but sometimes placed afterwards. Although the order of the German alphabet is exactly the same as in English, I have found that occasionally books may have a name index that combines like-sounding letters. In one genealogy-related German book (a häuserchronik), the index order is: A, B/P, K/C, D/T, E, F/V, G, H, I/J, L, M, N, O, R, S, U, W, Z. This is likely because surname spellings were flexible until more recent times, so Bergmeister was once Per(g)meister and Fischer may have been Vischer.

The next alphabet I had to learn was Polish. The Polish alphabet has 9 vowels and 23 consonants.  Letters not found in English include: ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź, and ż. There is no English q, v, or x in Polish.  And yes, there are 3 forms of “Z” – z, ź, and ż. The most critical thing to learn about these new letters is alphabetical order – they are not mixed in with their base letter counterparts but instead follow them in order.  So if a surname begins with the letter Ś like Ślesinski, it will be found in an index after all of the surnames that begin with S. It was also important to know what these letters sound like because they have no English equivalent.  That is why my original surname, Piątkowski, “translates” into English as Piontkowski – the letter “ą” sounds like “on” in English.  (How it became Pointkouski is best left to another post!)

Just when I mastered the Polish alphabet, along came the need to know Russian since many of my Polish ancestors came from the Russian-partitioned part of Poland. The Russian alphabet was not nearly as easy as either German or Polish, because Russian uses Cyrillic letters, not Latin. I still can’t figure it out, quite frankly. There are 33 letters, and while each letter has an English equivalent, genealogists have to realize that alphabetical order in Russian won’t be A, B, C, D, but instead A, Б, B, Г (in English: A, B, V, G). I find the Cyrillic letters very confusing, especially when trying to translate a name that uses the Polish alphabet into Russian.  Steve Morse’s site has several language tools that help researchers “translate” into the foreign types, both printed and handwritten. The name Piątkowski becomes Питковский in Russian.  I think; it’s all Greek to me.

Just when I thought my family history led me to all the alphabets I could possibly master, recently a new one has appeared…Czech! I am just beginning to find out more about my Bohemian ancestry. The Czech language has 31 different letters, and while it may look a little like Polish, there are some entirely different letters like č, ď, and several more. So my Polish-born Elżbieta would be Alžběta in her parents’ Czech language.

If I had only known in high school how important alphabets and languages would be to my future as a genealogist, maybe I would not have studied French and Italian – great languages for countries in which I have no ancestry. Fortunately, the Latin I took did come in handy for Catholic records in both Germany and Poland before the records were written in the native languages!

*Examples of letters with an umlaut (ü), ogonek (ą), and caron (č)

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

The Internet Archive: Wayback Machine (click on image to visit the site)

When we think of the past, we usually remember things that were a part of our lives such as cars, music, or fashions, or things from before our time that we learned about as history. The internet has only been part of our lives for a relatively short time as far as the history of the world is concerned, so while I sometimes think on the days “before” the internet, I don’t usually think about its earliest days and what it looked like. That is, until I read Go Back in Time: How 10 Big Websites Looked 15 Years Ago. The post uses the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to show screen shots of several sites including Apple, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and the New York Times. It was like the equivalent of looking at old photos of your family, friends, and self in fashions and hairstyles best kept in the past. But it was interesting to see just how “old” each of the sites looked “way back”  when and just how much the internet and technology has evolved in such a short time.

Genealogical research on the internet has shown the same leap as the sites mentioned in that article. I decided to look up some of our favorite big genealogy sites to see what is the equivalent of their old prom pictures.  While the screen shots might have that “dated” look about them, the most striking difference is that each of them have so much more information – including actual records online – than they did in the past.  Take a walk down memory lane – do you remember when the sites looked like this?

Ancestry.com on 02 March 2000. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Ancestry.com on 28 October 1996. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

FamilySearch.org on 08 May 1999. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Ellisisland.org on 03 March 2000. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Rootsweb.com (before purchased by Ancestry) on 14 June 1998. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

SteveMorse.org on 02 April 2003. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Of course, What’s Past is Prologue has looked exactly the same since its creation in 2008 except for the addition of some pages and changes to the sidebar.  But that’s just because I like the design!

SOURCE: footonoteMaven. "Earth Day - Birthday Graphic." footnoteMaven, 22 April 2009. http://www.footnotemaven.com/2009/04/earth-day-birthday.html : 2012.

The illustrious footnoteMaven and I go back a long time – from our days as war correspondents to back when we worked as sherpas leading Mt. Everest expeditions. When our mutual friend Penelope Dreadful mentioned fM’s birthday – that is, she mentioned the number being celebrated, for the day has long been a blogging holiday on my calendar – I was shocked. How could a woman who knows so much be so young? I mean, looks-wise, she’s striking, but youthful looks can lie (who knows how many surgeries could give me the same youthful countenance?). So although she looks much younger than her age, I was shocked at the number because she’s a woman of wisdom, and you don’t get wisdom with youth!

So that got me thinking…what if she’s really older than that? I smell a conspiracy. I mean, look at all the careers the woman has had!  From the dancing chorus girl on Broadway to the archaeologist who discovered an ancient civilization in the South Pacific to the sculptor whose work is in countless museums. Not to mention the time she tried a case before the Supreme Court. So how is it that this amazing woman could be younger than me?

I remembered a story she told me once, a long time ago. The details are hazy, as if remembering a dream. We both had a little too much to drink one night in Tangier while covering a coup, and she told me her deepest secret – she had discovered the Fountain of Youth. I thought she was drunk. I know I was. But looking back, I think she was trying to reveal her secret.

No wonder fM knows so much about history and historical records – could it actually be that she lived through it? Shades of the Departed, my butt…sure, those folks are departed from this world, but little did we know that fM knew all the folks in those photos – her family and friends from her past.

I had to find out the truth. There had to be evidence, and I had to cite it. One day, after many late nights spent searching, I finally found it. Oh. My. Gosh. Our own footnoteMaven was Polish after all.  And Catholic? Who knew! I guess when you live for so long you have to change your life story to keep things interesting. No wonder she always knew the answers to my Polish genealogical mysteries…I always wondered how a Lutheran girl of Irish stock from Missouri would know those things…  But records don’t lie! Here was my proof, a marriage record for Regina Mavin in 1803:

The is the only non-fictional element of the entire post (except, of course, fM's youth, beauty, wisdom, and the depth of our friendship).

The name Regina is Latin for “queen”. Mavin? Close enough – every genealogist knows how flexible spellings can be in records.  Queen Maven…was it really our Queen Maven marrying Mr. Miller in 1803? And does the current Mr. Maven know about this?  I traveled to Poland to the Archives to investigate further as anyone who watches WDYTYA knows that one must do. I entrusted Steve Danko‘s help, and we found more records about the former Regina Mavin that are not available online. We even found a painting of her, and that proved it once and for all, for Regina has the same striking visage as our very own fM. Yes, Queen Maven may have thought she covered up her tracks after her discovery of the secret of youth, but she underestimated the ability of a determined genealogist.

If only she told me more on that steamy night in Tangier when she drunkenly revealed her secret. Ah well, maybe someday she will reveal all. All I know is, the next time we attend a genealogy conference together, I’m bringing a supply of Lisa Alzo‘s slivovitz, a Slovakian liquor that’s better than a truth serum. Yes, someday I will get fM to tell me the location of that fountain!

#

Today is the birthday of footnoteMaven, editor/publisher of the award-winning Shades of the Departed Online Magazine. The Shadettes and Shades-dudes Staff Writers are pleased to present this Special Birthday Edition of the magazine as a tribute to their dear friend. The round-up of posts will be compiled today at The Family Curator. If you’re friends with fM too, join us in wishing her a very happy birthday. In case you were wondering, all of the above is fictional (and meant to be humorous) except for the fact that fM is young, beautiful, and my dear friend, and there was a very real marriage in 1803 in Poland of a woman named Regina Mavin. I figured it was either the fountain of youth or a time machine that was responsible for this amazing coincidence. 

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